The thing is, Derek’s not exactly an impenetrable vault when it comes to keeping secrets. Scott used to complain constantly about the guy’s inability to share vital information (pot; kettle, Scott), but really if anyone had just looked hard enough...
Which is to say that once Stiles has Derek’s tells down, Derek’s practically an open book.
So maybe it should come as less of a surprise than it does when Derek lets slip on a random Wednesday something particularly crucial that he obviously never wanted another soul to find out.
And it should definitely not come as a surprise that Stiles immediately jumps on said information like a dog after a bone.
It’s late March, and Stiles and Scott have commandeered the couch in the loft to do their homework and shoot the shit, since it’s more private than either of their homes and since Derek rarely even acknowledges their presence when they show up anymore. Just like he’s doing now, hunched over a pile of old texts on the other side of the room in Stiles’ periphery.
But today, instead of waxing poetic about whatever pair of knee high socks Kira was sporting in history class, Scott’s got actual news.
Well. Sort of. According to Deaton, Scott tells Stiles enthusiastically, soulmates are a myth rooted in actual fact, and werewolves can potentially recognize their mates by scent.
No, seriously. Mates. They’re apparently going there. Because all Beacon Hills was really missing was this particular supernatural cliché.
“Deaton says it’s rare, and it’s not necessarily set in stone unless both parties want it to be, but it can be very powerful if the connection is ‘fully acknowledged,’” Scott relays dutifully.
In Stiles’ expert opinion, Deaton is generally a walking crock of shit with a dash of intentionally vague mysticism. But Scott trusts him implicitly, so what can ya do.
Scott idly speculates what a soulmate might smell like and guesses that it must be close to a mix of love and lust and friendship and a million other things he starts listing off as they occur to him.
Stiles suspects that what Scott’s describing would end up just smelling like a sewer, like how mixing too many colors together always ends up an ugly brown.
“I bet it would smell... warm,” Scott decides suddenly.
Stiles pulls a face. “You can smell temperature?”
Derek is now shaking his head in exasperation behind the book he’s been pretending to read. “That’s not even remotely close,” he mutters, unimpressed. And then freezes.
Stiles knows Derek’s “oh shit” face extremely well at this point and that is definitely Derek’s “oh shit” face.
“Wait,” Scott stares at Derek, dumbfounded. “You know what it smells like? So you’ve-- The only way you could know what a mate smells like is if you’ve actually smelled your--“
“We are not talking about this,” Derek interrupts firmly, and Stiles’ brain instantly runs the gamut of horrible possibilities that sentence implies. Because let’s be real, this is Derek. His mate is more than likely dead. Or, hell, maybe his mate is dead and also killed Derek’s whole family in a house fire. God, how fucked up would it be if it was Kate?
No matter how Stiles looks at this, it’s depressing as hell. Everyone Derek’s dated is now six feet under, and at least half of them murdered a lot of people before they got there. So if one of them was Derek’s one, true, forever kind of love, Stiles might just bake him a pity cake. Or, like, pay someone to hug the guy.
Scott seems to have reached the same conclusion, but is a billion times better at knowing what to do with it. He gets up off the couch and approaches Derek carefully, places a friendly hand on Derek’s arm and says in his Responsible True Alpha Voice (TM), “I’m sorry I brought it up. You don’t have to talk about it. But if you ever want to, I’m happy to listen.”
Which is nice, though Stiles can’t help a small sense of disappointment in the back of his mind. He was really hoping werewolfitude would turn Scott into a furrier Johnny Cage, and instead he’s basically become the world’s best supernatural guidance counselor. It works for him, but still.
Derek looks pained. But, surprisingly, not the morbid kind of pained. More like the embarrassed kind? Which throws Stiles for a loop, until out of nowhere he suddenly gets it, jumping up off the couch and pointing a finger at Derek, “Holy shit, she isn’t dead!”
Scott and Derek give him equally flat looks.
Stiles carries on anyway. “You don’t want to talk about it, okay, but not because your mate’s a serial killing corpse. And by the way, congrats on dodging that one, I didn’t think you had it in you. But no! You don’t want to talk about it because your soulmate’s still kicking and you just haven’t ‘fessed up yet! Oh my god, you’re pining. Scott, Derek is pining. Scott. Scott. Derek is in love with someone and refuses to tell them. He’s a Jane Austen novel. We need to start writing this crap down so we can monetize it later.”
Scott purses his lips, thinking. He studies Stiles for a long moment, then he turns and studies Derek, who won’t meet anyone’s eyes. “...Oh hell,” he finally mutters, and then a sort of sad look crosses his face, “I am so sorry, dude.”
Derek visibly tenses. “It’s fine.”
Stiles blinks slowly, suddenly feeling like he’s missed an episode of whatever show their lives have become.
“You’ve known this whole time?” Scott asks Derek. “Since--”
“I said it’s fine.” Derek shoves Scott’s hand away and heads for the stairs. The only thing on the second floor of this place is a lumpy spare mattress that Isaac used to sleep on and a broken mini fridge, so Derek must really want to get away from them.
“Uh, what was that?” Stiles asks the vacant spot where Derek used to be.
Scott gives him a constipated look. “I think we should drop it, man.”
“But you’re supposed to agree with me here. This is the part of the movie where we montage all our wacky hijinks trying to get those two crazy kids together. You can give one of your True Alpha pep talks about how Derek just needs to be himself and tell her the truth and then we’ll fade out on some airport reunion or something.”
Scott sighs heavily. “You know, ‘soulmates’ doesn’t have to mean a love story. It could just mean, like, potential. Derek still has the right to choose what to do with that potential.”
“Okay, I get it, I’m an asshole for suggesting we direct his life for him. But I’m not an asshole for wanting the guy to be happy. He’s got a soulmate, Scott. And he’s probably doing nothing about it for completely crap reasons, like manpain and survivors guilt. I think we should help him.”
“I think,” Scott says carefully, choosing each word like it might explode on his tongue, “that if you really want to help him, you’ll be nice to him.”
“...Nice to him.” Stiles repeats and waits for the punch line.
“Kind,” Scott adds, like that should clue Stiles into everything he’s not saying.
Stiles squints. “Kind.”
“Empa... What is happening right now? Are you having a stroke?”
Scott blows out an exasperated breath. “You know what? Nevermind. I’m staying out of this one. No one’s actually dying for once and if I leave now I’ll still have time to meet my mom for dinner before her shift. My advice is to just drop this, but since I know you and I know you won’t, my alternate advice is to please try not to give Derek anymore psychological wounds than he’s already got.”
And with that, Scott exits stage left while Stiles gapes unattractively after him.
It’s a minute later, Stiles still frozen in place, when the impossible occurs to him. The completely fucking ridiculous and impossible occurs to him. Obviously it’s not true. It can’t be true. Pigs with wings have not set up shop on Main Street so obviously it isn’t true. Obviously it's not someone Stiles actually knows.
“Screw it, I can be nice,” Stiles mutters, and heads for the staircase.
Derek is sitting on the corner of the bare mattress, staring at the floor, exuding melancholy with abandon. He doesn’t acknowledge Stiles’ presence, but Stiles can read the hard line of his shoulders as clearly as if they were a formal greeting. It’s a particular, resigned tension that Stiles interprets as something along the lines of “Welcome to my Fortress of Solitude, oh Annoying One, might as well pull up a chair since I know I can’t get rid of you.”
Still, Stiles hesitates a moment, and gives Derek a couple feet of space rather than put a comforting hand on his shoulder like he wants to. The quiet itches at him, but he lets it draw out for another beat or two, gathering his courage, and then asks, quietly, “So what does it smell like?”
Derek closes his eyes and breathes slowly in and out. “Like the earth before it rains. Like... anticipation. Like hope.”
“Do you... regret knowing that?” Stiles is not sure when or why his voice suddenly got so choked-sounding.
Derek opens his eyes and looks down at his hands. It’s awhile before he answers, “No. It’s just inconvenient.”
Stiles huffs a short laugh. “Inconvenient. You know who your soulmate is and you’re torturing yourself over it because it’s inconvenient. Ugh, of course you are, you sadsack. If your soulmate literally threw herself at you right now you’d find a reason to be angry about it. Just man up and do something, Derek.”
Derek’s eyes snap up to glare at Stiles sharply. “I don’t want anyone throwing themselves at me,” he grits out.
Stiles groans. “Oh my God, you are the worst. Fine, no throwing. Wooing? Befriending? What if she baked you cookies and then kicked your ass at Wii Bowling, would you be down with that?”
Derek shakes his head. “You keep saying she.”
“Well, I-- Oh.” Stiles stops short. “Huh. Did not-- did not know that about you, but okay. Or, well, Scott said it didn’t have to be romantic if you didn’t want it to be. Dealer’s choice. Is this more of a bro-mates deal? Are you destined to be some poor sap’s eternal wingman?”
Derek rolls his eyes, looking as put upon as ever, but the melancholy dials down a couple notches, which Stiles counts as a win.
“Are you done pestering me about this now?” Derek asks, but there isn’t too much heat behind it, and he finally stands up, rolling his shoulders back to release the tension, like he’s already putting the incident behind him.
Stiles bites his lip. “Yeah, I just... Is it someone I know?”
And there it is, the impossible question. Because his current circle of friends is pretty limited, and if it is one of them... For some reason his stomach is in knots over the idea and he’s not brave enough to make himself figure out why. Just dealing with Derek having some nameless, faceless theory of a person that he’s destined to be with is bad enough.
Derek stares at him for a moment, his expression careful and his gaze scrutinizing. Stiles starts to fidget under the weight of it, but he determinedly doesn’t avert his own eyes.
“It doesn’t matter, Stiles,” he finally says with a sigh. “This isn’t a movie, and I don’t need anymore than what I’m already getting from the person in question. I’m okay with how things are.” He smirks a little. “Which is new for me, so I’d appreciate if you graded on a curve.”
Stiles can’t help but crack a grin at that. And he lets Derek lead the way back down the stairs feeling less worried about the whole thing—less worried about Derek--though, if he’s honest, no less eager to continue sticking his nose into places it’s clearly not wanted.
The compulsion to meddle, to solve puzzles and exert his own influence over the pieces, is so innate at this point it only barely registers as morally questionable in his own head. He understands this is a failing of his, but it’s one everybody around him seems to have made their peace with, so.
Possibly this is why his circle of friends is so limited.
Stiles goes back to his homework, his mind only half on it. Derek goes back to his books, as though nothing ever happened. And even though Scott is no longer with them to facilitate the charade of no one being hyperaware of the other’s presence, the next couple hours are as quietly, insignificantly pleasant as Stiles has ever had.
“How upset do you think Derek would be if I made him a Tinder account?”
Scott abruptly stops chewing his lunch in favor of staring at Stiles, slackjawed.
Stiles continues messing with his phone and eating his stupid fruit cocktail that didn’t even come with any cherries. “Or a Grindr? Or both? But okay, do I really wanna launch a two-pronged attack, or just try one avenue at a time?”
Scott swallows his food, nearly choking on it, and then glances beside him at where Kira is making that face where she’s half blatantly confused and half lowkey desperate to stay out of it.
“What exactly did you and Derek talk about after I left?” Scott turns back to Stiles with a deeply furrowed brow, and he leans forward to rest his elbows on the cafeteria tabletop. He looks half a second away from reenacting an after school special speech, so Stiles sighs and raises his hands up in surrender.
“Ugh, fine, I won’t do either of those things.”
“But why do you want to do either of those things?”
Stiles braces himself for getting cuffed upside the head as he responds in a guilty tone, “Because if Derek gets frustrated enough with us trying to set him up, he might finally just admit to who his soulmate is?”
Of course Scott doesn’t actually hit him, but Kira does kick him in the shin under the table. And she doesn’t even know what’s going on, so he must really not be doing too well as far as keeping his moral compass in check.
“Stiles, whatever reasons he has for secrecy, that’s his business. Forcing his hand like that isn’t cool.”
“And here I thought forcing Derek’s hand was your favorite past time.”
Scott scowls down at his lunch tray. “We aren’t the same people we were back then. Don’t pretend you don’t know that.”
Stiles takes a moment to breathe in and out, and to focus on the white noise of the conversations around them. He does know that, is the thing. But the person that Stiles is now, let alone the person that Scott is... intimidates him sometimes. And certainly doesn’t feel like someone he could ever be worthy of being. It’s so much easier to fall back into old habits, turn a blind eye, and just act as though he were the high school senior he would’ve turned into if not for the chaos and bloodshed of the last couple years.
He’s not that person though. And neither is Scott. And neither is Derek. None of them have gotten away unscathed, and he suddenly feels a little sick having tried so hard to ignore that fact simply to escape the messiness of his own emotions.
“I’m sorry. I know. But... I’m not gonna leave it alone, Scott. It’s already under my freaking skin and it’s only been twenty-four hours. I need to know. So if there’s a way of finding out that’s less invasive and awful than what I keep coming up with, then by all means clue me in.”
Scott’s expression softens, and his eyes take on that glint they get whenever he’s looking at a sick puppy about to be put under for surgery. “Just, answer me this first. Do you want to know because you genuinely can’t help yourself? Or do you want to know because you’re trying to have Derek’s back?”
Scott will know immediately if Stiles lies right now, but Stiles doesn’t really want to lie anyway. Even if it’s hard not to. Even if the words feel jagged in his throat on their way up. “Both. I mean... Yeah, both. But also, uh, for other reasons?”
Kira’s eyes have gone wide as saucers as she stares at Stiles and mutters a soft, “oh, wow,” like he just grew a second head right in front of her.
Stiles hunches his shoulders and sinks into himself a little, self-conscious and embarrassed.
But Scott reaches a hand out to put on Stiles’ arm and squeeze it in reassurance. “I think that’s great, man. Good answer. And, listen, if you really want to know about Derek’s feelings, I think maybe the best place to start is with your own, you know? Like, don’t ask him to admit stuff if you’re not willing to do it yourself.”
“But why should my feelings have anything to do with anything? Derek doesn’t need to know that I--“ He waves one hand about lamely. “Or whatever.“
“If you can’t say the words, you’re not mature enough to know what they mean,” Scott tells him.
Stiles throws a french fry at him.
Scott dodges and huffs a laugh. “Okay, scratch that. How about: if you can’t say the words, it’s a little unfair to try to make him say them? No matter who those words are about.”
Okay fair. Ugh. God damn Scott and his True Alpha Guidance Counselor shtick. Stiles misses the days when they both just got all their life coaching needs fulfilled by reruns of Boy Meets World.
There’s never time in this town to stop and sort out your emotional traumas, though. Which might be why they all have so many of them still waiting to be sorted.
Stiles takes Scott’s words to heart, and as well takes to heart how willingly Derek suddenly starts accepting Stiles’ presence at the loft every day after school, whether Scott is there with him or not. Stiles starts making himself at home, partly just to see if he can, but mostly because it feels like something the person he is now, the person he’s been avoiding in favor of his old self, would do easily and would enjoy.
He does enjoy it. More than enjoy it, if he’s being honest, even if he’s not entirely ready to examine the potential reasons for that.
But then somebody goes and pokes at the fucking hellmouth again, and suddenly rabid velociraptor pixies are a thing.
“There’s no such thing as a hellmouth,” Derek says from his position guarding the bolted door.
Stiles pauses in his search for a first aid kit amidst the mess of boxes that comprise the Beacon Hills High School boiler room slash inconvenient as shit supply closet. He gestures with two flailing hands at Derek and the door in turn. “One of those little fuckers almost chewed your eyeball out of its socket while trying to propose to you. You got a better origin story for them?”
Derek frowns and shifts his weight to favor the side of him that isn’t covered in tiny bite marks. “I’ve seen worse.”
“Of course you have. God, of course you have.” Stiles continues tearing apart the room in search of gauze or something resembling it. “Leave it to Derek freaking Hale to have seen so much shit in his life that demon hell spawn in Tinkerbell outfits don’t even phase him anymore. No wonder you’re so chill about the soulmate business. So long as they didn’t try to flay you alive you’d probably think you were living the dream.”
“Stiles,” Derek practically growls, keeping his eyes on the door and bracing for an attack. Or maybe bracing for Stiles to keep verbally poking at him. “Shut up.”
“Like hell,” Stiles huffs, giving up in his search and just grabbing a box of Kleenex. He stuffs a wad into the minor flesh wound in his own side, holding it in place with an elbow, and then marches over to Derek and determinedly tries to stymie the worst of his still-bleeding gouges. “Martyrdom is not a healthy lifestyle choice, Derek. Quit accepting this bullshit as normal.”
Derek tries to shake him off without losing his tactical position. “They’ll heal on their own.”
“I don’t care.”
Derek grits his teeth and Stiles dabs at the blood on him a little too violently to be called helpful, or even civil, but Derek doesn’t shove him away. Though he doesn’t look at him either.
The silence around them is tense and uncomfortable, broken intermittently by the muffled sounds of some sort of supernatural showdown going on outside the door. Stiles doesn’t pay much attention to it; he trusts Scott to handle this shitstorm from here. He and Derek were only bait in the end, which seems fitting. They get the bruises, the rest of the team gets the glory. Story of their lives.
Derek’s shoulders are a hard line beneath Stiles’ hands, and the quiet starts to feel suffocating. When it finally gets to be too much, Stiles closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He counts to ten. He remembers that he’s supposed to be better than this. “You know what? Fine. I’m sorry, alright?” he says, pulling his hands away. “I’m done harassing you for the day. I’ve hit my quota. You’re free.”
Derek finally tears his gaze from the door to raise a single, disbelieving eyebrow at him.
“Oh shut up. I’m emotionally distraught and bleeding. Cut me some slack.”
“I just don’t understand your sudden preoccupation with getting me laid.”
Stiles throws his hands into the air in frustration. “See, this is why I worry. You talk about it like your soulmate is just a name on a booty call list that you haven’t dialed yet. Derek, you could have a real shot at being the Hollywood cliché version of happy. And you want to ignore all that in favor of what? Skulking in the shadows and brooding?”
“You mistake my lack of theatrics for a lack of caring,” Derek says, with an almost robotic coldness. It’s the kind of tone he only uses when Stiles is already too close to the bone. “That isn’t the case. I don’t need anything more from him than what he’s already giving. And I’m certainly not willing to ask for anything more from him.”
“Well what if he fucking wants to give you more, huh?”
Derek frowns. “I still...” but he trails off, looking as confused and caught off guard as Stiles has ever seen him. Like he never even once considered that the other party might want to be with him. He shakes his head. “I still don’t understand why you’re so fixated on this. What does it matter to you?”
Stiles shrugs and suddenly finds his own wound infinitely fascinating. It’s already stopped bleeding, just a scratch really. It hurts if he lifts his arms above his head, pulling at the skin around his ribs, but this is definitely one of his tamer injuries. “I want you to be happy,” he mumbles.
“I know!” he interrupts quickly, shaking a little with nerves and really not up for hearing any snark in response to his admission. “Trust me, I’ve been making fun of myself over this for awhile now, but there it is. Somewhere along the lines I got it into my head that you deserve to be happy, and that I’m not going to stand by and watch you not be.”
Derek is quiet after that for long enough that Stiles has to finally look back up at him or things are going to start getting awkward. More awkward.
Derek’s expression is carefully neutral, a mask that only his eyes betray because they’re looking at Stiles with a softness that has Stiles going a little weak in the knees. “I wasn’t going to make fun of you.”
“Really? Because I would.”
“I appreciate that you care about me, Stiles. But why are you so convinced that the key to my happiness is my soulmate?”
“I’m just saying that it could be. And how will you know one way or the other if you won’t even let yourself try?”
Derek takes a deep breath and flexes the muscles in his arms like he’s working himself up to something big. There’s a hesitance in his posture that could almost be mistaken for fear. “Listen, I... I don’t want to rely on another person for the entirety of my happiness. It wouldn’t be fair to them or to me. And if I gave into the idea of asking my soulmate for anything more than what we already have... I wouldn’t know how to hold myself back. They’d be everything. I need to be better than that, I need to be happy on my own, before I even contemplate dealing with something as huge as just who this person has the potential of being for me.”
Stiles swallows thickly. His heart feels like a lead weight in his chest. “Wow. So, uh, you-- I mean, it’s not just a ‘destined to be together’ thing for you is it? You actually really, uh, you really love this guy.”
“...Yeah. I do.”
“Alright, then. I’ll... I’ll leave it alone. If that’s what you want.”
Stiles’ hands turn into fists at his sides as he steels himself to ignore his own feelings and power through the next part. This isn’t about him, after all, and he’s grown enough as a person (apparently) to respect that fact. Or, at least, Scott seems to thinks so. “Okay, but if I’m not allowed to butt into your personal life for the sake of your happiness, that means you gotta pick up the slack and do it yourself. If you need to go out and ‘be a better you’ or whatever, before you let yourself have the stupid Hollywood ending, then get a move on and start working for it already. Capisce?”
Derek nods slightly, eyes shining bright with amusement and what Stiles refuses to let himself believe is fondness.
The sound of a minor explosion outside the door makes them both flinch, but the noises of fighting stop after that, and Derek relaxes minutely. “It’s safe to go out there now.”
“’Safe’ is such a relative term in this town.”
Derek smirks back at Stiles as he leads the way out. “Don’t worry, I won’t let the hellmouth get you.”
Stiles bites down on a small smile, and stubbornly doesn’t think about the fact that there is someone out there that Derek loves so much he’d give up his martyrdom routine for them and finally try to be happy. “Right back at ya, big guy.”
Stiles doesn’t mean to wallow, but he kind of falls into it anyway with his usual gracelessness. One minute he’s scouring the internet for theories on predeterminism, and the next he’s lying on his bedroom floor with his T-shirt pulled up over his face.
He understands that this makes him a shitty person, but the fact only causes him to wallow harder.
Because recently Derek has been.. kind of... almost... happy? Happier, definitely. Derek is happy and Stiles should be happy for him, but instead he’s considering never leaving his current position, prone on the carpet.
It doesn’t happen right away, Derek’s quiet journey towards sound emotional health, but Stiles notices the moment it does. He’s observant like that. Really. At least half of the sheriff’s department has a perpetual betting pool going about who will solve any given case first: the cop assigned to it, or the nosy kid who likes to break into their evidence room in the middle of the night.
And it’s a good thing Stiles is so adept at putting together puzzles, because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to adequately prepare himself for their end results. Figuring things out is an act of self-preservation as much as it is just something his brain kind of can’t help.
He figured out his mother was going to die before anyone ever directly told him, and it gave him time to learn how to pretend to be brave for her. He figured out what Scott had become when he was bitten, long before Scott had accepted it, and it gave him time to learn how to navigate this new world of things that go bump in the night before it could kill him.
And now, three weeks after their conversation in the high school boiler room, Stiles figures out that Derek has finally started to really try and let himself be happy.
It’s the little things. Derek smiles at passages in the books he’s reading without attempting to hide it. He cooks in the evenings instead of living off of take out. He goes for his daily runs during normal people hours, instead of at 3 AM. And he suddenly has a standing weekly appointment at an office building in the next town over that predominantly houses the practices of several ridiculously priced though apparently highly skilled therapists.
Of course, Stiles only notices any of these things because he just so happens to be around Derek all the time lately. At this point he’s insinuated himself into Derek’s home and into Derek’s life so casually and completely that it would probably seem weird if he spent an afternoon after school not doing homework in the loft, or a weekend not cajoling the guy into buying him coffee. (He’s a broke high school student and the coffee place near Derek’s is better than the one near his own house, that’s all it is.)
But it’s good that Stiles has figured it out. It gives him time to come to terms with Derek actually being with the love of his life, his fucking soulmate, while Stiles pretends to carry on as normal. It gives him time to learn how to fake that it doesn’t hurt. With any luck, the realization of Derek’s newfound and tentative happiness will give Stiles just enough time to learn how to be supportive of the whole soulmate endgame it’s all building up to.
Until then, however, he’s going to lie here and let himself be miserable about it.
Of course, even while miserable, he can’t turn off his Energizer Bunny of a brain, already plotting a survival strategy for the next few days. He reaches blindly into his pocket for his phone and then tells Siri to call Scott.
“Hey, man, what’s up?”
“I need you to go over to Derek’s after school tomorrow so that he doesn’t notice that I’m not there.”
There is a lengthy pause from the other end of the line, before Scott says, as though he’s already desperately trying to reserve judgment, “I’m pretty sure he’ll notice that I’m not you.”
Stiles scoffs. “Like he cares if it’s me hanging out there or any other one of us insufferable youths. I know that he barely puts up with me, alright? But I’ve been there so much lately that he’ll notice if suddenly nobody is there and I need him not to notice.”
Another pause, and then Scott sighs heavily. “Dude.”
“I just don’t want him to think anyone’s avoiding him.”
“Even though that’s exactly what you’re going to be doing.”
“It’s for the sake of the greater good, Scott. I don’t know how to be around him right now without... doing something stupid. Which will result in crippling awkwardness and emotional devastation for all parties involved.”
“Or,” Scott says slowly, like he’s speaking a very small child, “you could just talk to him and leave me out of whatever weird mating dance you guys are doing.”
“He went to Ikea for you.”
“He went to Ikea for a bookshelf!”
“Because you told him he needed more furniture! Stiles, why do you think he’s been so motivated to get his life together these last few months? It’s you. You motivate him. You push him. You’re the one who’s always there and who he always let’s in, even when I have no freaking clue why sometimes.”
“That’s not...” Stiles swallows against the sudden lump in his throat. “He’s doing this for himself, not for anyone else. That’s the point. He’s figuring his shit out for himself first, and then he’ll let someone else in. Someone who is not me, someone he’s already in love with. He told me that. So whatever you seem to think about--”
“Fine, don’t believe me. But if Derek can admit to being in love, so can you.”
Stiles freezes, his breath caught. “What?” he chokes out.
“That’s what this is all about, right? Wanting to avoid him because you think you’re going to get hurt, or that he’s going to get hurt, or both. Am I wrong?”
“So you love him?”
Stiles grips the fabric of his t-shirt in two tightly clenched fists and pulls it down violently to uncover his face. “Fuck, Scott, why does it even matter? Yes, alright. Yes, I’m in love with the bastard, but just because I’ve said it out loud doesn’t make anything any better.”
For a moment all Stiles can hear is his own accelerated heartbeat and his lungs working overtime to catch his breath. But then Scott’s voice breaks back in, steady and reassuring. “I’m sorry. I just wanted to know for certain before I said this next part. Because you guys both deserve a lot better than you ever seem to let yourselves have, and it kills me sometimes. You deserve to have this, and so does he, you know?”
“No, I don’t know. Deserve what, Scott?”
“Happily ever after,” he says, like it’s easy. “Or whatever version of it our rotten luck will allow.”
“But he’s already got someone he--“
“He has you. He’s had you from the beginning. He just wouldn’t let himself.”
Stiles stares at his phone, terrified that he’s hearing this wrong. “That does sound like him,” he jokes breathlessly.
“Just. Ask him to describe your scent, Stiles,” Scott instructs, a smile in his tone. “Ask him if he’s ready.”
Stiles paces back and forth on the sidewalk in front of Derek’s building for half an hour before he works up the courage to go in. And then he paces around the inside of the elevator with the emergency brake pulled so he can thoroughly freak out one last time before he reaches the loft.
By the time he’s at Derek’s front door, it’s already open, and Derek is standing there in the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest and an eyebrow raised.
Stiles steels himself and shoves past him. “Look, I don’t know how to do this other than to just dive in and do it, so.” He turns around once he’s in the middle of the living area to face Derek. “Your mate. Who is it?”
Derek flinches back as if slapped, and then his expression shutters so entirely that not even his eyes betray him this time. “You said you’d leave it alone.”
“And I’ve been trying to, but I can’t anymore.”
“I think you should go now,” his tone is icy, and it’s been weeks since Stiles has heard Derek’s voice do that, so he hesitates a second.
But then pushes forward regardless, reminding himself silently of what Scott told him. “Not until you answer my question.”
“God damn it, Stiles.” The cold, calm fury in his voice is devastating. "This isn’t an opportunity for you to fucking play detective. My life is not a mystery for you to solve, or an excuse for you to plot and scheme. Whatever you think you’re going to get out of this, whatever fun you think there is to be had in this game--“
Stiles can feel himself flush with anger halfway through Derek’s diatribe, and he stalks forward without thinking, until he’s close enough to interrupt Derek with both hands against his broad chest, shoving him back a step. “Oh my god, you absolute dick. I’m not here because I think of you as a fucking piece on a fucking gameboard. And if that’s really how little you think of me, than why the hell is Scott so convinced that you--”
But he stops abruptly, unable to say it. Watching as Derek clenches his jaw and breathes harshly through his nose.
“That I what, Stiles?”
“I think you know what, Derek,” he shoots back.
They stare at each other for a moment, a tension between them so thick Stiles can almost see it.
But... he doesn’t push at it.
He counts to ten.
He reminds himself of why he’s really here in front of Derek, and who the person he’s grown into really is. The kind of person he still doesn’t feel worthy of being, in all honesty, but he’s willing to try. For Derek he’s willing to try.
“My scent, is it...” he starts, falters, and then starts again. This time so quietly only a werewolf could hear it. So quietly the words hardly leave his lips at all. “Derek, what does my scent smell like to you?”
Derek draws in a long, deep breath and closes his eyes, a man before the guillotine. “...Like hope,” he whispers back.
Hearing it out loud from the man himself knocks the wind out of Stiles. He stumbles backwards a couple of steps and collapses onto the couch, blinking dumbly at the hole in the wall that never got fixed. “Were you ever going to tell me?”
Derek turns his head away and down, staring at the floor to his side. “No.”
“At first? Back when we could hardly be in the same room together and you were barely sixteen-years-old? Because it didn’t matter. And then later, after-- after I’d fallen in love with you... Because it mattered too much.”
Stiles returns his gaze to Derek at that. Can’t help himself from blatantly staring, taking in the entirety of this man standing before him who apparently loves him. The fact feels like a bigger admission than anything about “soulmates” could ever be. Derek is in love with him.
Derek, whose five o’clock shadow is now the beginnings of an actual beard. Derek, whose worn jeans hang low on his defined hips instead of hugging his ass and thighs as uncomfortably tight as they used to. Derek, whose kaleidoscope eyes are now hesitantly looking back up at Stiles through his eyelashes and waiting for rejection. He’s beautiful, and so obviously terrified, and yet still standing there, completely vulnerable and exposed, like it isn’t the bravest thing Stiles has ever seen him do.
Stiles rises up off the couch with a renewed sense of purpose. “Well, that’s stupid.”
“What.” Derek blinks at him, startled and wary.
“You’re so convinced that you can’t have what you really want that you’ve decided to never even bother asking for it in the first place. Which is stupid, okay? Like, really amazingly freaking stupid, Derek.”
Derek scowls, eyebrows scrunching towards each other adorably, and Stiles wonders how he could have ever thought he’d want to pay someone else to hug this man rather than do it himself. And maybe do it forever.
“So you want me to start asking for the things that I want the most? Fine.” Derek’s tone is terse but his hands are shaking. “But only if you do it, too.”
Stiles swallows. “Yeah, okay. I’ll just... ask for what I want, then.” He takes a deep breath and braces himself to be the most honest he’s been in a very long time. “What I want right now? Is to hug you. If you’re willing.”
This definitely catches Derek off guard, and his entire body tenses.
But, after a moment, he gives a short, stiff nod, and so Stiles slowly approaches.
Derek holds himself taught the entire time, every muscle frozen to the point that it must be painful, as if he’s just waiting for the order to either fight or flee.
His hipbones feel like granite when Stiles puts his palms on them. Stiles gently pushes his hands back, around Derek’s midsection, and then up to splay out across Derek’s shoulder blades, over his loose T-shirt, and pull him in.
There is a part of Stiles that is afraid he’s going to fuck this up. But the rest of him is so immediately comfortable that it’s hard to remember the doubts. Derek is solid and warm against him, but also fragile, careful, a domesticated predator that can no more be entirely harnessed than he can be released back into the wild, and obviously suffering for it.
Stiles buries his face in Derek’s neck and inhales deeply, wishing he could make out what supernaturally enhanced senses would be able to. What he does get, though, feels like exactly enough. Pine needles and tree bark, Old Spice and treated leather, sweat and earth.
He pulls back slowly, just enough to ghost the tip of his nose up and down Derek’s jugular. He pauses to press the barest suggestion of a kiss onto Derek’s pulse point, feeling Derek’s heartbeat stutter against his lips, and his entire body shudder.
“Your turn,“ Stiles whispers. “Tell me what you want, Derek.”
Derek chokes a little, but doesn’t move away. Instead his grip on Stiles tightens, his fingers digging into Stiles’ back, like he’s hanging on for dear life. “I want you.”
Stiles bites back a smile, and for the first time this whole thing feels just as simple as Scott made it sound. “Okay,” he says, like giving himself to Derek is the easiest thing in the world. Like maybe he'd already done it ages ago but is only now figuring out how to be the kind of person worthy of the gesture.
That single word seems to cut whatever string was keeping Derek standing. A held breath rushes out of him and his entire body deflates against Stiles, curving around him and falling into him until Stiles can barely keep them both upright. He inches backwards, pulling Derek with him. They make it to the couch and fall, sinking down into the cushions until Derek’s head is in Stiles’ lap, his arms wrapped around Stiles’ waist, his nose buried in Stiles’ abdomen.
Stiles runs his fingers through Derek’s hair, a bit of hysteria bubbling up in his chest at the mere notion that he gets to do that, that he wants to do that, that Derek wants him to...
“I’m in love with you,” he says in a rush, before he can chicken out. “I think I have been for awhile? I’ve just been really good at pretending that I’m not. Even had myself fooled.”
Derek turns over onto his back so that he’s looking up at Stiles with cautious eyes. “You’re not obligated to. Just because I--”
“No, listen, shut up. You’re an idiot. And I’m an idiot, too. And we’re stuck with each other now because we idiotically fell in love with each other. No take backs.”
“Stiles, all that stuff about soulmates, it doesn’t have to work like that. It’s just unrealized potential until we both agree to decide otherwise. It isn’t binding.”
“Well maybe it isn’t binding, but I am. Like freaking super glue, alright? So saddle up, buddy, because you’re not getting rid of me.”
Derek levers himself up with a hand on Stiles’ knee, until he’s sitting beside Stiles, facing him. “I wouldn’t ever want to,” he says seriously.
Stiles groans and shoves at Derek’s face with his whole hand. “Oh my god, what am I going to do with you? Already with the cheesy declarations and we haven’t even kissed yet.”
Without missing a beat, Derek pulls Stiles’ hand away by his wrist, and then leans in with a small smirk. “Well, there’s an easy fix for that.”
“And again with the smooth one-liners.” Stiles laughs softly, shaking his head and knowing the sudden rush of fondness he feels is probably written all over his flushed face.
Derek reaches out with his other hand to cradle Stiles’ cheek in his palm. His thumb ghosts over the delicate skin beneath Stiles’ eye, and Stiles blinks an unintentional butterfly kiss against it when Derek pauses.
“I love you, too,” Derek says, hushed and intense. “How's that for a one-liner?”
Pretty damn good, honestly. But Stiles doesn't quite know how to say so yet.
"It'll do," he shrugs, faking casual.
And then he grins, and kisses Derek for all he's worth.